Part One is HERE.
Part Two is HERE.
If you asked, “Alison, what did you learn from the fire?” I would definitely tell you, “Hire a Public Adjuster.” This is a person or company distinct from an insurance or claims adjuster—the party who will negotiate on behalf of your insurance company. The Public Adjuster negotiates on yours.
This post isn’t about insurance, so I’m going to leave it at that. But repeat this three times, to seal it in your memory.
Should your house ever burn down (God forbid!) and you forget, contact me.
“Alison, I don’t need insurance tips—(you so do!)—I’m wondering what you learned, you know, spiritually.”
Fortunately so few people go around asking others what they have learned, because I would be hard pressed to tell you what the fire taught me. Looking back, it just seemed like a long march. I did learn a ton about how to support and care for people in crisis. And yes, I learned spiritual things too—mostly about hope—but I still find it hard to neatly explain it.
But if you asked me, “What about that time your living room remodel went off the rails and you had to wait until right before Christmas to get your tree and everything fell apart; what did you learn? I would be able to tell you immediately:
“Parents need to teach their children to mourn.”
That’s it in a nutshell, but of course I want to tell you the whole story.
By the time the living room was finished and we were finally ready to get a tree it was five days before Christmas. The thing is we were going away that year. My mom’s side of the family was spending Christmas at a resort in Indiana and we were leaving Wednesday, the 23rd. It seemed ridiculous to get a tree only to have it less than three days.
Paul and I conferred. He was all for renegotiating with the kids. At first I was all for it too. I just wanted to get everything cleaned up and put away. The thought of pulling out all the Christmas things to turn right around and take them all down again was exhausting but something gave me pause.
Christopher, Lydia and Eden were 14, 12 and not quite 7 years old and all of them were eagerly awaiting this. How long would that last? Sure we could make them come on this family outing as long as they were under our roof, but that’s no fun. It felt important to do this, knowing it could be our last. I was thinking of the kids growing up and individuating.
I have no idea this will be our last Christmas decorating the tree with ornaments the children had been given since their births, with ornaments I had collected since I was a child. This is our last Christmas in this house and before the fire. But I don’t know that, I just have this compulsion we should pony up and get the tree regardless of how impractical it seems. Paul sees my point and agrees.
Would the farm even be open still? I called and listened to the recording of their hours. I looked on their website too. Both said they were open on Sundays and there was no mention of when they closed for the season. We decided to go right after church and invited my mom to come along.
The day was cold, but beautiful. We’d had a lot of snow. Everyone was happy and eager. This would be Jack’s third visit to the farm and he couldn’t wait. I don’t know how he knew where we were going but he seemed to and parked himself between the front seats just like in the picture above.
We turned off the exit and hit the first fork in the road. There were signs for several farms and stands, but the sign for our farm was missing. This brought my first sense of foreboding but I kept quiet. Turning onto the road I also noticed the lack the traffic, but it was the chain across the first entrance which confirmed my fears.
The kids all reacted immediately, gasping and crying out. Paul pulled into the second entrance and stopped. We looked at each other.
“What do you want to do?” He asked.
“There’s another farm, Jane and Doug go to just up the road,” I said, “Kids, let’s try another place,” I called to the back of the van, “Okay?”
“Those mean, mean people!” Eden shouted. I pictured the kindly older couple who ran the farm with the help of their children and grandchildren.
“Eden!” I said, “You know they’re nice people. It wasn’t clear they were closed, but it is less than a week before Christmas. It’s understandable.”
She crossed her little arms and stared at me, sullen and intractable.
“Does this mean we aren’t going to get a tree?” Christopher asked from the very back.
“We’re going to get one,” I said, “We just need to figure out another place. Miss Jane goes to a farm right near here. Let’s try that.”
Paul turned around and pulled out onto the road, back the way we came.
Jack threw back his head and howled.
To Be Continued….
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I came across your blog when googling information about how to cope with house fires.
This past Friday a family I babysit for lost their home, all their belongings, and their two cats in a house fire. The 6th grade girl is having a really hard time with it. She is afraid it will happen again. Are there any books you would recommend that might have helped your daughter cope with this horrible and terrifying experience?
Any other advice would be greatly appreciated.
Alison Hodgson says
I’m so sorry to hear about your friends’ fire. I spoke with my ten year old daughter and she said even now—2 1/2 years later—she still worries from time to time that our house will burn down again. “But rarely” she just said.
It takes time.
Was the family in the house? This makes a difference.
My advice would be:
1. Ask if there is anything in particular the little girl misses. If there is an easy way to replace something important, that’s a great place to start.
2. Ask her if she would like to talk about it. At times we just need to tell our story.
3. The loss of the cats is huge. Perhaps you could arrange a little memorial. It doesn’t need to be a big deal, but taking time to acknowledge the loss, just taking a few moments could be very helpful.
Already being a care giver, you are in a key place to offer care and support.My kids were all given gift cards and they loved going out and buying special things. Perhaps you could take this girl out shopping to give her a chance to take her mind off it and to give her parents a break.
I don’t have any books to suggest, but I’m working on an e-book, to give away, organizing all my advice.
I hope this helps. Please don’t hesitate if you have any more questions. It’s so wonderful that you care and want to help. I know it means so much.
Thank you Alison! I appreciate you getting back to me. Fortunately, they werent in the house. I will share this with the mom. Our community has been great and has rallied together to support this amazing family. They have been given gift cards, the christmas gifts they lost, all their favorite toys from their rooms, and our community even was able to fully furnish a rental with all the donations.
If any more questions come up, I will be in touch. Thanks again!
Alison Hodgson says
You’re welcome, Katya. It’s truly my pleasure. It’s an astonishingly challenging experience which can get a lot harder as time passes, before it gets better. It’s a long journey. I guess that would be my last little bit of advice to you to know this will take some time to heal. People come pouring out with amazing support in the beginning, but this family could still use kindness and support 6-12 months from now. We really appreciated those who touched base with us, long after the fire.
Also, the help in the beginning can be overwhelming, if you can, encourage the parents to simply say, “Thank you” and then offer to help them sort through things. It’s strangely hard to receive donations.
It’s great that you care.